Camilo Alejandro Egas Silva was born in Quito, Ecuador in 1889 and grew up in the San Blas barrio. He studied at the College of San Gabriel y Mejia before enrolling in the Egas studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts), in Quito in 1905. He stayed at the school until 1911 and studied under Paul Bar and Víctor Puiz.
In 1918, Egas received a government scholarship to study at the Art Academy in Rome. In 1919, Egas studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid on a second government grant. In 1922, Egas moved to Paris and attended the Colorrossi Academy, while exhibiting between at the Salon des Indépendents and at the Salon d’Automne from 1924 to 1925. In 1924, Egas exhibited at the Exposition d'Art Americain-Latin at the Musée Galliera in Paris.
Egas returned to Ecuador in 1926 and played a pivotal role in forming the Indigenist Movement together with Oswaldo Guayasamin. The Indian theme seen in his work was related to the rise of Socialism and the constitution of Marxist parties in Latin America. In 1926, Egas founded Ecuador’s first art periodical, Helice (Helix).
Egas combined the Costumbrista painting tradition of Ecuador with the influences of contemporary art movements other countries. He used his knowledge of European art techniques to create dramatic, large-scale oil paintings of Andean indigenous peoples and themes, bringing Indigenismo to the European 'high art' world. Egas's ideology and aesthetic of the 1910s and 1920s connect him to Spanish modernism, a movement espoused by the School of Fine Arts at Quito, which was inspired by its modernity and nationalism.
During this time, Egas taught at the Normal de Quito and served as art director of the National Theatre.
In 1927, Egas moved to New York, but occasionally lived in Spain and Italy, and made numerous trips back to Ecuador. He consecutively assimilated various styles: first, Social Realism, then Surrealism, Neo-Cubism, and finally Abstract Expressionism. In New York, he befriended José Clemente Orozco. In the 1930s, Egas's work included two murals, Harvesting Food in Ecuador: No Profit Motif in Any Face or Figure and Harvesting Food in North America. In 1932 Egas began teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York in and became their first Director of Art in 1935. He taught and directed the art department until his death in 1962, the same year that the school gave him an honorary doctorate in fine arts.
In 1939, Camilo Egas was responsible for decorating and painting a mural for the Ecuadorian Pavilion of the New York World's Fair. The Museo Jijon y Caamano de Arqueologia y Arte Colonial in Quito commissioned him to paint a series of work in oils exploring Andean Indian life.
During the 1950s, Egas exhibited his work in Caracas, Quito, and New York.
Egas died on September 18, 1962 in New York City, New York.
The Museo Camilo Egas in Quito opened in 1981 with a permanent exhibition of his work but is now closed. The collection belongs to the Banco Central del Ecuador, and Museo Camilo Egas has been relocated to Venezuela 1302 and Esmeraldas Corner, close to Banco Central.